Top News

Thursday, Oct 22, 2020 13:30 [IST]

Last Update: Thursday, Oct 22, 2020 07:52 [IST]

WITNESS TO CHANGE IN SIKKIM

6. NAMGYAL INSTITUTE OF TIBETOLOGY AND PROF. NIRMAL CHANDRA SINHA

PROF AC SINHA
Story starts in 1955, when India decided to celebrate 2500th year of Lord Buddha’s sermon at Sarnath at international level. Naturally, India decided to invite two doyens of   Buddhism, the Dalai Lama and Panchen Lama from Tibet, among the honoured guests. The two Lamas reached Delhi after a short stay at Gangtok in Sikkim. After the function, the monks were reluctant to return, as they informed their host that the People’s Liberation Army of China was engaged in cultural annihilation of Tibetan heritage, monastic establishments and Tibetan functionaries. Pandit Nehru tried to talkto the Chinese Premier Chou en Lai (Zhou Enlai) present in Delhi of the monk’s predicament. Chou straight away refuted the allegations and invited Nehru to visit Tibet and see the situation for himself. With this information, the host could convince the two lamas to return, as he would meet them in Tibet soon. They reluctantly came back home knowing full well how did the Chinese premier bluff their Indian host. But Nehru was no body’s fool. He too had reluctantly believedhis Chinese guest, as he was reluctant to host two foreign monks as national guests at that time for a number of reasons.
Thereafter, the Government of India went on reminding the Chinese of the premier’s promised visit to Tibet and the Chinese went on postponing the proposed visit on some or other pretext. Nehru had an alternative plan to visit the Buddhist Himalayan kingdoms through Tibet. Two Himalayan Buddhist kingdoms, Sikkim and Bhutan, were sounded and they were happy to welcome the honoured visitor. And that was the time, Ministry of External Affairs, proposed to start an Institute of Tibetan Study at Gangtok. Tashi Namgyal, the Maharaja of Sikkim and Palden Thondup Namgyal, the Maharajkumar, were both enthusiastic about it. With a view to co-coordinating the proposed Institute, Prof Niramal Chandra Sinha, a PRS scholar of Calcutta University, was identified. On the other hand, Dewan N K Rustomji was sent to Paro in 1956, the then functional capital of Bhutan, on a scouting trip prior to Nehru’s visit. Once all arrangements were in place, Nehru visited Gangtok on way to Bhutan. Sir Tashi Namgyal used the occasion to get the Institute of Tibetology inaugurated by the honoured guest. And thus, Tashi Namgyal Institute of Tibetology was initiated in 1958by Premier Nehru.
Director N C Sinha was a historian, who spent all his energy in giving a sound footing to the Institute by recruiting right type of personnel. As it was the first institute of its type, what could be theimportant branches of study: translation, training of the monks, (who were engaged in process of publication,) printing, museum and Tibetan lithography? There was a powerful Advisory Board at the top who guided the Institute at the policy level. A journal, Bulletin of Tibetology, was edited, published, and was printed on the paper produced through the traditional Tibetan device. It was a ticklish task to co-ordinate monastic tradition with the demand of a modern research institution with reliable funding on time and convincing the patrons that their mandate was being honoured and its activities had a level of standard for academic acceptance. It was a time consuming, persistent and painful exercise to accomplish. Director Sinha’s earlier contacts with Tibetologist bureaucrats like Basil J Gould, Alster Lamb and others came handy in this context. Prof Sinha spent his precious fifteen years on giving the Institute a sound footing and respectability as a place of research on vanishing heritage.
With the Chinese crack-down on the Tibetans in 1959 and Sino-Indian border war in 1962, large many Tibetan refugees came to Sikkim on way to India. There was a refugee camp at Deorali near the Institute of Tibetoloy down below the highway and these forlorn denizens would visit Institute of Tibetology and find solace in the familiar environment. In this on-going scheme of things, an unwanted controversy arose on an article authored by the newly-wedded American queen of Sikkim, Hope Cook Namgyal, which was published in the Bulletin of Tibetology in 1965.  The author had made a plea that in ancient days all the land in Sikkim belonged to the King and even his allotting a portion of the same, could not cease king’s ownership of that land.  She had pleaded that as the King of Sikkim had given/ leased the land to the British for settling a sanatorium at Dorji- liang (Darjeeling) for the convulsing Europeans, as the purpose of the lease was accomplished, the land should come back to Sikkim automatically. This raised a storm in Calcutta, Darjeeling and to a lesser degree in Delhi. The most vituperative opposition came from the Nepalis of Darjeeling, who had argued that it was they who had created what Darjeeling had become with their blood, sweat and hard labour and immense sacrifices. Otherwise, what was it? It was just a barren cold and denuded hillock devoid of any habitation. New Delhi asked the Maharaja about his official position on the issue. He explained that it was an academic exercise of HopeNamgyal and it should be treated as such and matter should rest there. Interestingly enough, nobody raised a finger on any involvement of the Director in this controversy. But the Institute got good publicity all around in the bargain.
                    II
My first meeting with Director Sinha was in the first week of February, 1964.  We, a dozen of anthropology students from Ranchi University, were guests of Dewan Ram Narayan Haldipur, who had made arrangements for our hospitality in Sikkim. On a Sunday, we were at the Tibetan refugee camp and were advised to visit nearby Institute of Tibetology as well. When our group reached the premises of the Institute, we found it closed. We enquired of the security staff why it was closed; they informed us that it was because of the Sunday, the cosing day. However, the guard at the gate informed the Director at his residence. I saw an old gentleman strolling in around his bungalow by the roadside, and he asked us of our purpose ofvisit. Having heard of us, he was angry and informed us that the Dewan should have known that Sunday was a closing day for the Institute. But unconsciously I made a note of it that if I had to come for research on Sikkim, he and his Institute would be ideal locale to begin with.
                        III
When I reached for my fieldwork in 1969, I requested the Director Sinha to allot me aroom in the Lamas’ hostel, which was gracefully granted. I would leave the hostel after the breakfast, move all over the day in my efforts to collect data and reach the hostel in the evening. After an early dinner, I would walk to Director’s bungalow across the road and spend the evenings in his company. He was the lone inmate of the bungalow and would welcome me for the company. I would cross check my data collected in the day with him, as he knew everybody and everything of Sikkim. We would discuss academics, current affairs, politics, and in fact, anything and everything. At times, he would give dictation to me on his researches on lamaist polity, a theme on which he published a thin book from K L Firma Mukhopadhyaya, Calcutta, Prolegomena of Lamaist Polity. At times, scholars would visit him and I would unobtrusively participate in their conversations. One particular occasion I remember when Prof. Leo Rose, Editor of the Asian Survey, from California University, Berkeley, addressed Prof Sinha as ‘Guruji’ and Sinha would call Leo Rose, as ‘Gulab Singh’. I had heard the King introducing himself to Prof Sinha on telephone as ‘Palden’. Maharaja Palden Thondup Namgyal had a mind of his own, but he would meet Prof Sinha with respect and listened to him with patience. In return, Prof Sinha would know when and how much to speak to. In brief, my stay at the Tibetology Institute was rewarding to me in many ways. It helped me to understand better how Namgyal durbar functioned; how rumours were spread with purpose and how they were used administratively and politically. The Director was known as an eccentric man with a sharp tongue. But he was an extremely helpful, sincere and committed friend /well-wisher.  
                        IV
After his retirement, he briefly joined Calcutta University as a Centenary professor in history. He resided at Ramkeishna Mission Guest House at Gol Park in South Calcutta and would take a tram to and fro to Collage Street in central Calcutta to teach. After that, Prof Amlan Dutta, possibly the Vice Chancellor of North Bengal University (NBU), invited him to start the research programme of the Centre for Himalayan Study in the university. I had met Professor sinha in mid 1970’s in the N B U guest houseand he was not in the best of his moods those days. His retirement accounts in Sikkim were still not settled in the aftermath of the political upheaval in the state. That was the time I had come to NBU looking for him from Gangtok after attending a seminar on sources of history of Sikkim at Institute of Tibetology. His successor, Ramrahula, a former professor of School of International Study, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi had invited Dr S P Sen, Director of Institute of Historical Study, Calcutta to hold the seminar at the NIT.
In between the new director had changed the entire structure of the Institute. So much so that even the name of the Institute was changed to Sikkim Institute of Culture. The entire staff of NIT, the elite of Sikkim, the monk boy, and concerned citizens of Gangtok rose in disgust and there were black posters on the walls denouncing the new directorand his vandalism of the Tibetology. At the top of all that, he drove in Director’s jeep to Bhutan without informing/taking leave from the Government of Sikkim, who had employed him. Everybody was aghast. The Governor of the State[the chairman of the managing Committee]dismissed him while he was roaming in Bhutan and asked the Chief Minister to organize the seminar, which was done excellently in the given situation. The Chief Minister L D Kazi and the Governor, B B Lal, both came for the seminar. Professor Sinha was pained to learn all that. When I asked him what would happened to the Institute in such a situation which he had assiduously built in the long run: who will ultimately run the show?  He took time to answer a hypothetical question. However, he had a pre-science, he answered if one Tashi Densapa, who was especially sent for higher studies to USA, comes and takes over, then there might be a future for the NIT. And that is how it happened in course of time.
The Government of Sikkim realized the need for professor Sinha to steer clear the mesh Delhi man had left behind. He was persuaded to come back to NIT by end of 1970’s. He did come and took over the reign of the administration and tried to revive the institute to a great extent. In September 1981, I had borrowed his jeep to drive to the ‘palace’ to meet Mr Palden Thondup Namgyal, the last ruler of Namgyal Sikkim. By then Director Sinha was once more residing alone possibly in his old bungalow on NIT campus. But he was in his 70’s; the time had changed; his energy was limited now and Tibetology did not make sense to many powerful people, who mattered in those days. He would leave Sikkim for good and settled down at Hotel Sinclair, Siliguri, and would guide on demand the international tourists interested in lamaist shrines and various sites in Sikkim, Bhutan and North Bengal. Whenever, I chanced to visit Sikkim and Bhutan, if possible, I would make it a point to see him at Hotel Sinclair. At last, he expired in 1997 at ripe old age at the Hotel. However, after about a decade, when the Golden Jublee anniversary of Namgyal Institute of Tibetology, Gangtok was celebrated in 2008, a glowing tribute was paid to the memory and contributions of Professor Nirmal Chandra Sinha by the Director Tashi Densapa. And it was a pleasure to me as a participant on the occasion to see that one of his sons, Alok Sinha, IAS, was invited to be the guest of honour on the occasion.
    (The writer is Former Dean, School Of Social Sciences, And Professor Of Sociology, North Eastern Hill University, Shillong and an ICSSR National Fellow, NMML, New Delhi)               

Sikkim at a Glance

  • Area: 7096 Sq Kms
  • Capital: Gangtok
  • Altitude: 5,840 ft
  • Population: 6.10 Lakhs
  • Topography: Hilly terrain elevation from 600 to over 28,509 ft above sea level
  • Climate:
  • Summer: Min- 13°C - Max 21°C
  • Winter: Min- 0.48°C - Max 13°C
  • Rainfall: 325 cms per annum
  • Language Spoken: Nepali, Bhutia, Lepcha, Tibetan, English, Hindi